Fargo makes money from garbage, wasteIn trying to control the stink from the city landfill, officials in North Dakota’s largest city have found ways to turn their trash into cash. “If it smells, it sells,” says Mike Williams, a Fargo city commissioner. The city is turning methane gas into electricity and sewage into usable water for a nearby ethanol plant. All told, going green should add more than $2 million a year to city coffers.
By: By Dave Kolpack , The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — In trying to control the stink from the city landfill, officials in North Dakota’s largest city have found ways to turn their trash into cash.
“If it smells, it sells,” says Mike Williams, a Fargo city commissioner.
The city is turning methane gas into electricity and sewage into usable water for a nearby ethanol plant. All told, going green should add more than $2 million a year to city coffers.
“With common sense and economics being your guide, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Bruce Grubb, Fargo’s enterprise director.
Fargo is using methane gas from the landfill to generate electricity that powers its own facilities as well as a crushing plant down the road. As a bonus, the effort to capture the methane has allowed the city to sell so-called carbon credits.
The city is taking some of the recycled water it pours into the Red River and selling it to a new ethanol plant in Casselton, about 20 miles away. The plant started production last week, said Russ Newman, vice president of development for the ethanol project.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Newman said. “We’re getting the water we need, the city is getting money and we’re not competing with the farmers for aquifers.”
It all started about eight years ago, with the smell.
City officials were flooded with complaints about the smell from the landfill, mainly because Fargo’s growth put people closer to the west-end garbage dump. The city responded by building a methane gas well field on top of the garbage.
The move put a wrench in the stench.
“It’s probably went from objectionable to detect-able,” said Terry Ludlum, the city’s solid waste utility manager. “I just don’t get the calls I once did.”
The original well field, with 20 wells, cost about $800,000, Grubb said. Not too long after, the manager from a nearby Cargill crushing plant called Grubb and asked about using the captured gas to make electricity.
Cargill, which had a similar arrangement with a landfill in Fayetteville, N.C., and the city of Fargo split the cost of 1 1/2 miles of pipeline, about $350,000.
“It made a big difference that we were so close to the landfill,” said Doug Chris-tie, the plant manager for Cargill. “What’s appealing to us is that it’s a long-term resource, and we’re always going to be neighbors.”
Cargill now pays about $125,000 a year for the power.
The Cargill arrangement worked so well that city decided to build its own generator at the landfill and produce its own electricity. “It’s free fuel,” Grubb said. That fuel is now being used to power two bailing machines that are used to compact the trash.
A couple of years ago, Fargo became the seventh city to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, which trades greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Members of the exchange buy carbon credits to help offset their emissions.
Now there are eight cities in the group — Aspen, Colo., Berkeley, Calif., Boulder, Colo., Chicago, Oakland, Calif., Melbourne, Australia, and Portland, Ore., Williams said.
Besides the estimated $300,000 a year for the credits, Fargo got a $610,000 check earlier this year for one-time historic carbon credits.
“You don’t get big paydays like that very often,” Ludlum said, smiling.
Newman said the ethanol plant has signed a 25-year contract with the city to use the recycled wastewater, which should bring in more than $1 million a year. The plant expects to use 600,000 gallons a day in the winter and up to 1 million gallons a day in the summer.
Dennis Fewless, director of water quality for the state Health Department, said communities had been using recycled water as irrigation for golf courses and crops but not for anything this big.
“It was a joint venture of brainstorming between everybody,” Fewless said.